Thomas D. Murphy.

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touch with the metropolis by motor car, adding still farther to its
desirability as a residence town for people with leisure and money.
The distance, just one hundred miles, is an easy three-hours' drive
and a very popular Sunday jaunt from Los Angeles and frequent motor
busses make the trip daily. All of which serve to make Santa Barbara a
long-distance suburb of the Queen City to a far greater extent than it
was in the days of rough roads and the "dreadful Casitas Pass," as I
heard it styled more than once.

But here I am going on as if the automobile were the prime factor in
making a town prosperous—and, truly, it is hard for one who has never
visited California to understand what a tremendous utility the motor
car has become in the life of the people. And, besides, this is a
motor-travel book by an admitted automobile crank and perhaps a little
exaggeration of the importance of the wind-shod steed is permissible
under such circumstances.

But, all levity aside, Santa Barbara, with her unrivaled attractions,
her sheltered sea, her delightful environment of mountain and forest,
her matchless climate, her palms, her roses, her historic associations
and—not least in our estimation—the rapidly increasing mileage of fine
roads about her, is bound to receive continual additions from the ranks
of the discriminating to her cultured and prosperous citizenship.



Leaving Santa Barbara for the north, we turned aside a little way out
of the town into the entrance of Hope Ranch, a beautiful park which was
then being exploited as a residence section. Here are several hundred
acres of rolling hills studded with some of the finest oaks we had
seen and commanding glorious views of the ocean and distant mountains.
Splendid boulevards wind through every part of the tract. A fine road
runs around a little blue lake and leads up to the country club house
which stands on a hill overlooking the valley. Passing through the
tract, we soon came to the ocean and, following Cliff Drive, which leads
along the shore for a few miles, we found ourselves in the grounds of
the Potter Hotel. The drive is an enchanting one, with views of rugged
coast and still, shining sea stretching away to the dim outlines of the
channel islands.

From Original Painting by Percy Gray]

On our first trip we chose the coast road and followed a fine new
boulevard for a dozen miles out of Santa Barbara—but beyond this it was
a different story. Not so bad as the Los Olivos garage man declared—"the
worst in California"—but a choppy trail with short, steep hills and
stretches of adobe about as rough as could be from recent rains. At the
little village of Gaviota this road swings inland over Gaviota Pass,
though there is a shorter and more direct route to Santa Ynez, the next
mission. This branches from the main road about four miles north of
Santa Barbara and cuts directly across the mountains through San Marcos
Pass. Probably this was the original Camino Real, since it is several
miles shorter than the coast road and would present little difficulty
to the man on foot or horseback, as people traveled in the brave old
mission days.

On one occasion we varied matters by taking this route despite the
dubious language of the road-book and the rather forbidding appearance
of the mountain range that blocked our way. We found the road quite
as steep and rough as represented—very heavy going over grades up to
twenty-five per cent, with a multitude of dangerous corners—but we felt
ourselves more than repaid for our trouble by the magnificence of the
scenery and the glorious, far-reaching panoramas that greeted us during
the ascent. It was something of an effort to turn from a broad, smooth
boulevard into a dusty trail which was lost to view in the giant hills,
though we solaced ourselves with the reflection that the boulevard
continued but a few miles farther. Fording a little river—the great
flood a few weeks before had swept away every vestige of the bridge—we
ran for a short distance over a tree-fringed road through the valley and
then began the six-mile climb to the summit of the range. Much of the
way trees and shrubbery bordered the road, but at frequent intervals
we came into open spaces on the mountain side which afforded some of
the finest views we saw in California. The day was unusually clear and
the landscape beneath us was wonderfully distinct in the morning sun. A
long reach of wooded hills, dotted here and there with cultivated fields
and orchards surrounding red-roofed ranch-houses, stretched down to
the narrow plain along the sea. Upon this to the southward lay the town
of Santa Barbara as an indistinct blur and beyond it the still shining
waters of the channel running out to the island chain which cuts off the
great waste of the Pacific. During our ascent we paused many times to
cool our steaming motor and saw the same glorious scene from different
viewpoints, each showing some new and delightful variation.

Strenuous as was the climb, it was almost with regret that we crossed
the hills which finally shut the panorama of mountain and sea from
our sight. The descent was even steeper than the climb, but there were
frequent grassy dales starred with wild flowers which broke the sharp
pitches, and many views of magnificently wild scenery down the Santa
Ynez Canyon. At the foot of the grade we came to the river—a clear,
shallow stream dashing over a wide boulder-strewn "wash." We followed
the river valley for some miles through velvety, oak-studded meadows
whose green luxuriance was dashed here and there with blue lupines or
golden poppies. Coming out of the valley and winding for some distance
among low, rolling hills we reached the lonely town of Santa Ynez, which
we missed when going by the Gaviota Pass road. It is an ancient-looking
little place, innocent of railroad trains and some four miles distant
from the mission which gives it the name.

We shall never regret our trip through San Marcos Pass, but if the
traveler is to make but one journey between Santa Barbara and Los
Olivos, he will probably choose the coast road—the route of the state
highway—and if he does not find the scenery so spectacular as that of
San Marcos, he will find it as beautiful and perhaps more varied. For
many miles this route closely follows the Pacific and we quite forgot
the rough road in our enthusiasm for the lovely country through which
we passed—on one hand the still, deep blue of the sea and on the other
green foothills stretching away to the rugged ranges of the Santa Ynez

Near the village of Naples we were surprised to see a lonely country
church, solidly built of yellowish stone, standing on a hilltop. Its
Norman style, with low, square tower and quaint gargoyles, seemed
reminiscent of Britain rather than California. And, indeed, we learned
that it was built years ago by an English resident of the locality, who
doubtless drew his inspiration from the Mother Country. But, alas for
his ambitions, his costly structure is now quite abandoned and serves
the humble purpose of a hay-barn, though it is, and may be for ages, a
picturesque feature of the landscape.

We supposed that Naples, like its southern namesake, would prove
a modern seaside resort, but we found only a group of whitewashed
buildings surrounding an unpretentious inn. It seemed a quiet, cleanly
little hamlet and its harsh outlines were relieved by the bright colors
of tangled flower-beds. A little farther we paused for our noonday
lunch under a great sycamore by a clear little stream. Here some bridge
timbers served opportunely for both table and seats; the air was vocal
with the song of birds and redolent with the pungent odor of bay trees
growing near by. It is not strange that such experiences prejudiced us
more strongly than ever in favor of our open-air noonday meals.

Beyond this we passed through a quiet, dreamy country. Houses were few
and the only sound was the low wash of the sea upon the rock-strewn
shore. The sea was lonely, too, for not a sail or boat or even a
sea-bird was to be seen. Only the endless shimmer of the quiet water
stretched away in the afternoon sun to the golden haze of the distant

At Gaviota the foothills creep out to the water's edge and the road
takes a sharp swing northward across the mountain range, beyond which is
Santa Ynez Mission. The ascent of Gaviota Pass is rather strenuous, the
road winding upwards under the overarching branches of oak and sycamore,
but many vantage-points afford magnificent views. At the summit we were
delighted by a wide outlook over the foothills, studded with giant
oaks, stretching away to the dim blue outlines of the High Sierras,
and long vistas up and down the quiet valley, whose pastoral beauty was
heightened by occasional droves of sheep—a panorama not easily surpassed
even in California.

The long, winding descent to the vale of the Santa Ynez was a rough
one, thanks to a recent heavy rain which worked the adobe into ruts
and gutters. The road was heavily shaded much of the way and was still
wet in spots, which, with the sharp hidden turns, made extreme care
necessary—if there is any particular road I should wish to avoid it
is a wet mountain grade. (I may interject that all of the foregoing is
obsolete now; a broad cement highway crosses the Gaviota.)

Just beyond the river we caught a gleam of white-washed walls standing
in a grassy plain—the lately restored mission of Santa Ynez. The
white-haired padre greeted us warmly, for every visitor, be he Catholic,
Protestant, Jew, or Gentile, is welcome.

"We are glad, indeed, to see you," he said. "Santa Ynez is a lonely
place and our visitors do much to break the monotony of our lives."

To him it was a labor of love to tell the history of the mission and
of his own connection with it, nor did he attempt to conceal his pride
over the work he had accomplished. He first directed our attention to
the beauty of the site—the fertile plain with luxuriant green fields
and fruit-tree groves, surrounded by a wide arc of mountain peaks
with rounded green foothills nearer at hand. Through the center of the
valley, but a few hundred yards from the mission, flows the tree-fringed
Santa Ynez River, a stream of goodly volume in the springtime and well
stocked with mountain trout.

"Oh, they were shrewd, far-sighted men, those old Franciscan padres,"
said Father Buckler, "when it came to choosing a site for a mission.
Do you know that old Governor Borica, who declared California 'the most
peaceful and quiet country on earth,' was the man who located Santa Ynez
in this spot, which he styled 'beautiful for situation' in making his
report? Surely he knew, for he himself had made long explorations in
the mountainous regions by the coast and five missions in 1796-7 were
established by Padre Lasuen under the Governor's orders. Santa Ynez
was founded in 1804; it was not one of the great missions, since its
greatest population was only seven hundred and sixty-eight in 1816, but
it was one of the most prosperous in proportion to its size. Its first
church was destroyed by the earthquake of 1812, but five years later the
chapel which you now see was completed. The arrangement and style of the
buildings here in 1830 were much like Santa Barbara, though everything
was on a smaller scale. The secularization took place five years later,
at which time the property was considered worth almost fifty thousand
dollars—which meant a good deal more than it would now. The Mexican
Government had such poor success with the Indians that they gave the
mission back to the padres in 1843, but the evil work had been done and
prosperous days never returned. In 1850 it was abandoned and gradually
fell into ruin.

From Photograph by Dassonville]

"I was sent here with instructions to report on the feasibility of
restoring the mission. I expected to remain but two months at most,
and now eleven years have passed since I came. My work was well under
way when the earthquake of 1906 compelled me to start over again and it
was but two years ago that the bell-tower and several buttresses of the
church suddenly crumbled and fell in a heap in the cemetery. We were
only too thankful when we found the four ancient bells unharmed—the
rest I was sure we could rebuild, and we did it in enduring concrete.
Last Easter we held a special service to celebrate the restoration, and
chimes were rung on the old bells from their place in the new tower.

"Our congregation is a small one and very poor. It includes about sixty
Indians, most of whom live in and about Santa Ynez. They are all very
religious and have great reverence for old paintings and figures. Many
valuable relics have been looted from Santa Ynez Mission, but never by
an Indian—the educated white man is usually the thief. Indeed, it was
a college professor who stole a beautiful hand-wrought plate from the
old door. Come with me, my friends, and see what we have done."

He led the way first to the chapel, a long, narrow, heavily buttressed
structure built of adobe. The "fachada" is the restoration spoken of
and the father hopes gradually to reproduce the ancient building in the
same enduring material. In the chapel is a large collection of pictures,
statues and candlesticks, some of them ancient and others of little
value. Traces of the old decorations remain, mostly sadly defaced,
except in the chancel, where the original design and coloring are still
fairly perfect.

The padre then led us to his curio room, containing relics of ancient
days. He is a true antiquarian and few if any of the missions had as
good a collection. The most curious was a mechanical organ player, an
extremely ingenious contrivance for enabling one with little musical
ability to play the instrument, and an old horse fiddle, still capable
of producing a hideous noise. Besides these there were rusty little
cannons, antique flintlock muskets and pistols and swords of various
kinds; candlesticks in silver and brass; ponderous locks and keys;
church music done on parchment; great tomes of church records, bound in
rawhide, and a great variety of vessels for ecclesiastical and domestic
use. There was a huge yellow silk umbrella which was carried by the
padres in days of old on their pedestrian trips from mission to mission,
for the rules of the order forbade riding. So strict were they on this
score that at one of the missions where the monks had been guilty of
riding in carts the president ordered that these vehicles should all be

The pride of the father's heart was the collection of ancient vestments,
which we consider the finest we saw at any of the missions. In addition
to those belonging to Santa Ynez, the vestments of La Purisima are
treasured here. Most of them were made in Spain over a hundred years ago
and they are still in a surprisingly perfect condition. Rare silks and
satins of purest white or of rich and still unfaded color were heavily
broidered with sacred emblems in gold and silver and there was something
appropriate to every festival and ceremony of the church. "Many of them
are worth a thousand dollars each," said Father Buckler, "but no money
could buy them, for that matter. Yes, I wear them on state occasions
and they are greatly admired and even reverenced by my parishioners."

A more gruesome collection—a queer whim of the father's—was a case of
glass bottles and jars containing all manner of reptiles and vermin
discovered in or about the old building during the restoration work.
There were snakes of all sizes and species, lizards, scorpions,
tarantulas, and other venomous creatures, all safely preserved in

"They are not very common now," said the father, "but my collection
shows some of the inhabitants of the mission when I first came here."

When we came out again into the pleasant arcade, Father Buckler called
our attention to another of his diversions more agreeable to think
upon—his collection of cacti and flowering shrubs. Several of the former
were in bloom and we were especially delighted with the delicate, pink,
lily-shaped flower of the barrel cactus which, the father assured us,
is very rare indeed.

We thanked the kindly old priest for his courtesy, not forgetting a
slight offering to assist in his good work of rescuing Santa Ynez from
decay, and bade him farewell.

"We are always glad to get acquainted with the mission priests. They
have proved good fellows, without exception," we declared, "and we hope
we may find Father Buckler here on our next visit."

"I was not asked to come here—I was sent," said the father, "and I hope
they may not send me elsewhere on account of my years; but if the order
comes I must go."

He laughingly declined to be photographed in his "working clothes"
and waved us a cordial farewell as we betook ourselves to our steed of
steel, which always patiently awaited our return. We were glad as we
swept over the fine road through the beautiful vale that we were not of
the Franciscan order—we would rather not walk, thank you!

The five-mile run from the mission to Los Olivos was a beautiful one,
through oak-studded meadows stretching to the foot of mighty mountains,
about whose summits the purple evening shadows were gathering. Just
at twilight we came into the poor-looking little town of a dozen or so
frame "shacks" and cottages.

It had been a strenuous day, despite the fact that we had covered only
fifty-four miles—the distance via Gaviota Pass. The San Marcos route
is fifteen miles shorter, but our trip that way took no less than four
hours, three of which were spent on the heavy grades of the pass. The
Gaviota road much of the way was adobe, which, being translated into
Middle West parlance, would be "black gumbo," and a recent heavy rain
had made it dreadfully rutty and rough. We were weary enough to wish
for a comfortable inn, but Los Olivos did not look very promising.
It chanced, however, that we were agreeably disappointed in our
expectations—at the edge of the village was a low, rambling building
which they told us was the hotel. Here we found one of the old-time
country inns to which the coming motor had given a new lease of life
and renewed prosperity. Mattei's Tavern evidently gets its chief
patronage from the motor, for no fewer than seven cars brought five or
more passengers each on the evening of our arrival. Some were fishing
parties—the Santa Ynez River is famous for trout—and not all the guests
remained over night, though many of them did. Our rooms, while on the
country hotel order, were clean and comfortable. But the dinner—I have
eaten meals in pretentious city hotels not so good as that served to
us by the bewhiskered old waiter at Mattei's Tavern. We had made a
guess as to the nationality of the proprietor—Swiss—and the waiter
confirmed it. We had stopped at hotels with Swiss managers before, in
many countries besides Switzerland, and always found in evidence the
same knack of doing things right. Mattei himself was on the job looking
after the details to insure the maximum of comfort to his guests, and,
like the manager of the Kaiserhof at Lucerne, he was at the door to bid
us good-bye and Godspeed.

After dinner we walked about the little village and the silence
and loneliness seemed almost oppressive. Overhead bent the clear,
star-spangled heavens, while around the wide floor of the valley ran a
circle of ill-defined mountains, still touched to the westward with the
faint glow of the vanished sun. Certainly, if one were seeking rest and
retirement away from the noise and bustle of the busy world, he might
find it in Los Olivos!

The new highway misses the village by a mile or two, but the knowing
ones will never regret that its quiet and seclusion are still unbroken.
They will enjoy the pleasant rural inn even more on that account.

Our car was before the Tavern's vine-covered veranda early in the
morning. There was nothing to detain us in Los Olivos and after a
breakfast quite as satisfactory as the dinner of the evening before—we
had trout from the Santa Ynez—we bade good-bye to our host, who gave us
careful directions about the road. These were beginning to be needed,
for sign-boards were less frequent and El Camino Real in some places
was little better than it must have been in the days of the padres—often
scarcely distinguishable from the byroads. All this will be improved in
the near future, for everywhere along the roadside we saw stakes marking
the state highway survey, which, when carried to completion, will make
El Camino Real a highway fit for a king, indeed!

For the greater part of the day we ran through hills studded with
immense oaks—the omnipresent glory of this section of California. In
places we caught glimpses of green carpeted dales stretching beneath
these forest giants, and noticed that these trees usually stand at
spacious distances from each other, which no doubt accounts for their
perfect symmetry. The road in the main is level, though somewhat rough
and winding as far as Santa Maria, the first town of consequence. It
is a modern, prosperous-looking place which the last census set down
as possessing four thousand souls; it now claims a thousand more and,
indeed, its appearance seems to substantiate its claim, though one is
likely to be fooled in this particular by some of the newer California
towns. Their wide streets and spacious lots often give the impression
of a larger population than they really have.

Out of Santa Maria we followed a bumpy road to Arroyo Grande through
a brown, barren-looking country—for the season had been almost without
rain. The wind was blowing a gale, driving the sand with stinging force
into our faces; and two weeks later when we passed over the same road
on our return the same sirocco was sweeping the country. We asked a
garage man of Santa Maria if this had been going on all the time, but
he promptly declared that it had begun only that morning and that it
was "very unusual."

From Arroyo Grande there were two main roads to San Luis Obispo, but we
chose the one which swings out to the ocean at El Pizmo beach, a popular
resort in season, though when we saw it a forlorn-looking, belittered
hamlet, seemingly almost deserted. The attraction of the place is the
wide, white beach, some twenty miles long, so hard and smooth that some
record-breaking motor races have been made upon it. We could see but
little, for a gray fog half hid the restless ocean and swept in ghostly
curtains between us and the hills. The road ascended a long grade,
affording some glorious sea views, for the fog had broken into fleecy
clouds and the sunlight had turned the gray sea into a dense expanse
of lapis lazuli. But we had not long to admire it, for the road turned
sharply inland and a half dozen miles brought us into San Luis Obispo.
The town takes its name from the mission founded by Serra himself in
1775—San Luis, Bishop of Tolusa, being commemorated by Padre Lasuen,
who selected the site. Near at hand may be seen a series of strange
pyramidal mountains, almost as regular in contour as the pyramids of
Egypt, and one of them, curiously cleft through the center, suggested a
bishop's mitre to the ancient Franciscan; hence the name of the "City
of the Bishop." The town, though ancient, has little of interest save
the mission and this, through unsympathetic restoration, has lost nearly
all touch of the picturesque.

We hesitated a moment in front of the chapel and a Mexican at work on
the lawn offered to conduct us about the place, and a very efficient
guide he proved to be. He led us into the long, narrow chapel, now in
daily use and which has a number of old paintings and queer images
besides the regular paraphernalia one finds in Catholic churches.
While we walked about, several Mexican women came in and kneeled at
their devotions. They were clearly of the poorer class; our guide said
that the people of the congregation were poor and that the padre had
difficulty in raising money to keep up the mission. Around the neat
garden at the rear of the new dormitory—a frame building contrasting
queerly with the thick, solid walls of the chapel—were scattered bits
of adobe walls of the buildings which had fallen into decay. One low,
solid old structure, used as a storeroom and stable, remained to show
the sturdy construction of the buildings.

"Here at San Luis," said our guide, "tile roofs were first used; the

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Online LibraryThomas D. MurphyOn Sunset Highways → online text (page 14 of 25)